“The birthday of St. George, whose illustrious martyrdom is honored by the Church of God among the combats of other crowned martyrs.”
You can read the Golden Legend’s account of Saint George and the Dragon here. The account below comes from an Old English Martyrology, a compilation of early medieval martyrologies, and doesn't mention the dragon:
“On the twenty-third of the month is the festival of the holy man St. George, whom the emperor Datianus tormented seven years with unspeakable tortures that he might forswear Christ, but he never could overcome him; and after seven years he ordered him to be beheaded.”
[George must have been relieved]
“When he was led to his execution, fire came from heaven and consumed the heathen emperor and all those who had formerly tortured the holy man. St. George prayed to the Lord speaking thus: ‘Jesus Christ, receive my spirit: and I beg of Thee that which man soever keep my commemoration on earth, Thou remove all sickness from the house of this man: no enemy may hurt him, nor hunger nor pestilence; and if a man mentions my name in any danger either on sea or on a journey, then Thy mercy may attend upon him.’ There came a voice from heaven speaking to him: ‘Come, thou blessed one, whatever man invokes My Name by thee on any danger, I shall hear him.’ Since then, the powers of this holy man were often made widely known. He who reads St. Arculfus’ book may perceive this, that the man was heavily punished who dishonoured St. George’s image, and he who sought it for the sake of intercession was protected against his foes in the midst of great peril.”
The Reflection in John Gilmary Shea’s Lives of the Saints comes from Saint Bruno:
“What shall I say of fortitude, without which neither wisdom nor justice is of any worth? Fortitude is not of the body, but is a constancy of soul; wherewith we are conquerors in righteousness, patiently bear all adversities, and in prosperity are not puffed up. This fortitude he lacks who is overcome by pride, anger, greed, drunkenness, and the like. Neither have they fortitude who, when in adversity, make shift to escape at their souls’ expense; wherefore the Lord says, ‘Fear not those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.’ In like manner, those who are puffed up in prosperity and abandon themselves to excessive joviality cannot be called strong. For how can they be called strong who cannot hide and repress the heart’s emotion? Fortitude is never conquered, or if conquered, is not fortitude.”
In Catalonia (Spain), the day is a celebrated by giving roses and books to loved ones. [Catalonia, as a former territory of the old Kingdom of Aragon, celebrates Sant Jordi as their patron.] An enterprising 20th century bookseller saw a way to reduce his stock and promoted April 23rd as the “Day of the Book”, since Miguel de Cervantes died today (well, he was buried on this day in 1616). And what better way to celebrate books than by giving one to each person you love? In 1995, citing a few more authors who were either born or died on the 23rd (like William Shakespeare) the day was made universal by UNESCO as “World Book and Copyright Day”.
[Not that the Widow has anything against a festival which honors books (in fact, when it comes to giving books to loved ones, she would remember that she loves herself a whole lot), but have you ever noticed that when reading about the history of holy days, the usual mantra is about how those mean ol’ Christians stole the days from the fun-loving pagans and then either absorbed or suppressed the pagan celebrations, but when secular entities turn our holy days into festivals honoring man’s achievements (or vices) nobody thinks, “Why, those mean ol’ secular entities! How dare they!” ? You hadn’t noticed? Never mind, then.]
The Catalan flag, four red bars on a field of gold, is everywhere, and besides the books and the roses, there are delicacies offered today, like pa de Sant Jordi, a savory bread striated in red and yellow, and, of course, cakes decorated either in the Catalan colors or, more fanciful, made to look like books.
So today, take a nod from the Catalans and make a cake to honor Saint George. A POKE CAKE would be fun and easy. If you need a recipe, try this one from Kraft. Otherwise, the steps are simple, using a box of cake mix, a box of gelatin mix, and whatever you fancy for frosting.
For Saint George’s emblem (red cross on a white field) = white cake. For the Catalan flag = yellow cake.
Make a sheet cake or cupcakes according to directions. Allow cake to cool.
Poke holes in the cooled cake about ½ inch apart (three or four holes in cupcakes). The recipes call for using a fork. I use the handle of a wooden spoon, which produces a hole about 3/8” diameter.
Choose a flavored gelatin mix. Both St. George’s cross and the Catalan flag would have red stripes, so use strawberry or raspberry gelatin (or another favorite red flavor). Or, since it was once traditional in England to wear blue today (the color of the Order of the Garter, under the patronage of Saint George), use blueberry gelatin with white cake. Dissolve a box of gelatin mix in 1 cup of boiling water. Stir in ½ cup of cold water. Pour this over the cake. Put the cake in the refrigerator and let it chill for 3 – 4 hours.
When ready, frost and decorate as you like. Whipped cream is always good. White frosting with a red St. George Cross in decorating gel or even fruit (like strawberries). Yellow frosting with four red bars in decorating gel for the Catalan flag. If you are really creative, draw St. George on the top of the cake. If you are more like me, color and cut out figures of St. George and the Dragon, attach them to wooden skewers or popsicle sticks and insert them into the cake.
And for dinner? It has to be Dragon’s Breath Chili! Be brave! Remember, FORTITUDE!
‘Woodcut of St. George’, The Golden Legend, (Dutch, 1485)
“Saint George”, The Belles Heures of Jean, Duc de Berry, 15th century.
Flag of Catalonia, swiped from Wikipedia.
‘Saint George’, Hours of Catherine of Cleves, 15th century